SMU Rehearsal Directors Talk Differences in Working with University Dance Students Versus Professionals

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In anticipation of Southern Methodist University’s Fall Dance, running November 13th-17th, I asked some of the rehearsal directors about their opinion on staging and creating works in the university setting in contrast to producing work in the professional dance community.

SMU’s Daniel Buraczeski and Joshua Peugh work extensively in both the professional and university fields of dance. After a career on Broadway, Buraczeski formed his own company, JAZZDANCE, which toured throughout the United States and Europe until he joined the Southern Methodist University faculty permanently. Buraczeski has created works on various dance companies including Boston Ballet, Ballet Memphis, and Zenon Dance Company, and has received multiple fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. Peugh graduated from Southern Methodist in 2006 and began his career in South Korea with Universal Ballet. He left the company to start his own enterprise, Dark Circles Contemporary Dance. The recently established United States branch of DCCD is currently making its presence known in the Dallas dance scene.

For this particular concert, Buraczeski is restaging Cathy Young’s Zero Cool, while Peugh premieres his new work Pick-Up. Here, they open up about how working in a university dance setting varies from a professional setting.

Morgan Beckwith: Do you treat the process of choreographing/restaging a work differently for the SMU dance students than you would those in a professional dance company?

Joshua Peugh: Yes, there is a different agenda when working with students; the primary goal is to educate.

When casting my new work, PICK-UP, for the SMU dance students, I considered who could benefit from having more partnering experience, or who could use a new struggle or a new perspective. When I choose dancers for my company I look for people who have a natural groove and a passion for moving, who are a bit more polished. In the university setting, dancers are focused on training. A professional dancer’s primary focus should be preparing for performances in front of a more critical audience.

Daniel Buraczeski: From my perspective, the process of creating a new work or restaging an existing work and the performance expectations associated with that work are the same for SMU dance majors and professional dancers.

Both groups need to be inspired collaborators. The difference between the two groups would be in the audition process. In a university setting, I might see the potential of a student—perhaps I would have had them in class or seen them in a Brown Bag. I might think that an opportunity to perform in a main stage concert would be the opportunity that would push them to a new level of artistry and might give them the confidence to take on greater challenges. This would not happen in a professional company. You cast based upon what you see in the audition.

MB: Are your expectations of the final performance product different for those in a University dance program versus (paid) professional dancers?

JP: I have high expectations for the quality of the performance [with both], but the audience that comes to see a university performance understands they are seeing students, who are training and growing as artists. Ultimately, the work we are doing, choreographers, dancers, teachers, etc., is for an audience. Understanding that our audience, in this case, is coming onto a university campus to see a performance danced by students allows me to look at this performance as a learning tool for the students. Hopefully, they will stretch their ideas of what is possible and learn something about themselves through the work that will eventually benefit them as professionals.

The students sometimes make artistic decisions that don’t make sense to me, but I am happy to see them engaged in the work and curious about their own boundaries. In the professional world the expectation is that you make more thoughtful decisions.


As dancers in a university program know, so much of our energy and attentiveness is focused within the immediate realm of our work in the studio space and its transition onto the stage space. However, in preparing for careers outside of the program, we often forget to stop and think about how we are working and performing in relation to the expanding contemporary dance world. As these professors have attested, there is an opportunity to take advantage of the teaching and exploratory environment that a university program can offer. But as we grow as dancers and individuals, it is important to understand the different expectations between professional and university settings.

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